It’s estimated that at least half of adult Americans have some kind of periodontal disease, also known as gum disease. An infection of the tissue that supports the teeth, gum disease is also a major cause of tooth loss. The main reason people develop this condition is poor oral hygiene habits. Not properly taking care of your teeth allows plaque to build up, which is a sticky film of bacteria. The plaque then hardens into tartar and can only be removed by your dentist. It’s a snowball effect that can be easily avoided by brushing and flossing and routine dental checkups.
Signs of Gum Disease
Often, people don’t even know they have problems with their gums because the symptoms can be mild and painless. Signs that you may have an infection include:
- Bleeding gums
- Gums that have receded, or pulled away from the teeth
- Loose permanent teeth
- Change in the position of teeth
- Tender or swollen gums
- Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
Are You at Risk?
While gum disease can be avoided with daily brushing and flossing at home and visiting your dentist on a regular basis, some people are at higher risk for contracting the disease, such as:
- Tobacco smokers have an increased chance of gum disease because of how tobacco affects the bacteria in the mouth.
- Undiagnosed diabetes patients are at a higher risk because they are more susceptible to oral infections, which progress more rapidly in this population.
- Certain medications can impact your oral health, leading to the progression of gum disease. Make sure you tell your dentist if you are using any medications so they can monitor you properly.
- The hormone levels in teenagers and pregnant women make gums more sensitive, which can promote gingivitis.
- Crooked or crowded teeth can make it difficult to properly clean your teeth, leading to a buildup of plaque and tartar.
The Stages of Gum Disease
Gum disease can start off as a small dental issue, but without treatment can progress to a serious level where surgery may be necessary to heal the gums.
The first stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis. Fortunately, it is mild and reversible. When bacteria builds up and hardens on your teeth over time, it can cause damage to the gum tissue surrounding your teeth. You dentist will monitor you for signs of gum inflammation and bleeding when brushing or flossing. They’ll also ask you if there is any irritation or pain in your gums.
Again, brushing and flossing at home is the best way to prevent plaque and tartar build up. If treatment is necessary, however, your dentist will recommend a professional dental cleaning, known as scaling, followed by root planing.
Scaling includes removing bacteria from your tooth surface and beneath your gums. Root planing will remove bacteria from the exposed surface of the tooth root and discourages further bacteria buildup.
Following treatment, proper brushing and flossing and regular professional cleanings are recommended to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Gingivitis that is not treated can advance to a more serious form of gum disease known as periodontitis. Periodontitis occurs when the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth, forming pockets. Food debris can get caught in these spaces and cause a gum infection. As the disease progresses, it begins to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold your teeth in place. The pockets deepen and teeth become loose and eventually fall out.
Similar to gingivitis, periodontitis is treated with cleaning and root scaling. When the disease has advanced beyond non-surgical treatments, surgery may be needed. Options include flap surgery or bone and tissue grafts.
In more extreme cases, periodontitis can affect your overall health by increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack. That’s why it is important to treat gum disease before it gets to more advanced stages.
Prevent Gum Disease at Home
By following these simple guidelines, you can avoid the pain and trouble that comes with gum disease. A little extra time spent caring for your teeth means less time in the dentist’s chair.
- Brush for two to three minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Make sure to also brush gently along the gum line.
- Floss daily in between teeth to prevent plaque buildup.
- Using a mouth rinse in addition to brushing and flossing can help reduce plaque.
- Limit starchy and sugary foods, which can increase plaque.
- Consider quitting tobacco products, which put you at higher risk for gum disease and oral cancer.
At Reston Serenity Smiles, our dental team helps patients in Reston, Virginia and the surrounding area keep their smiles healthy and happy. We take pride in making sure our patients are monitored for gum disease and providing them with tips and tools to maintain their oral health habits at home.